Stimulants Addiction

Estimated reading time: 33 minute(s)

Stimulants, a class of psychoactive drugs, comprise a wide range of substances that include both illicit and prescribed drugs with a host of outcomes, objectives, and goals. These are characterized by their ability to produce short-term improvements in either mental or physical functions or both. A common feature of stimulant addiction is that it is primarily psychological and needs intensive therapy to treat its underlying causes. While some stimulants are primarily used illegally, others serve a medical purpose. However, misuse of stimulants can lead to a substance use disorder (SUD) or adverse health effects. Stimulant misuse may lead to overdose, withdrawal, addiction, or even death.

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Results from the 2019 survey of substance use patterns shed some light on stimulant misuse that 5.5 million Americans aged 12 and older were reported using cocaine within the last year. During the corresponding period, 4.9 million people of the same age group abused prescription stimulant drugs, while nearly 2 million people said that they used methamphetamine to get high. Considering the potential health effects, it’s essential to understand the risks of using stimulants and know when and how to seek help.

What Is Stimulant Abuse?

Stimulants consist of vast groups of legal and illicitly used substances. Taking into consideration, however, that even legally prescribed stimulants can be illicitly diverted and misused for non-medical purposes. Stimulants are legal when prescribed by a doctor, but they can be abused by people facing problems in academics or those who want to enhance their brain performance. These drugs can cause intense addiction when misused, which leads us to the main question- “what is stimulant abuse?”

Stimulants are drugs that increase the body’s natural functions, but their misuse and abuse occur when they are not used responsibly. They are habit-forming drugs, so they should be taken carefully as prescribed by the doctor.  To give a broad overview of stimulants, there are different reasons for stimulant abuse depending on the substance and its effects. Stimulants can be misused to:

  • Lose weight.
  • Create feelings of euphoria.
  • Improve performance at work, school, or in sports.
  • Feel more alert.
  • Increase self-confidence.
  • Focus and think more clearly.
  • Boost libido.

However, misuse/abuse of stimulants can cause adverse effects, either prescription or illicit, if taken in large quantities or more often than therapeutically needed. Serious adverse effects of stimulants misuse include:

  • Hyperthermia and elevated body temperature
  • Violent behavior
  • Cardiovascular stressors such as vasoconstriction and accelerated heart rate
  • Psychosis
  • Panic attacks
  • Hostility

Stimulants are highly addictive, can significantly impact the brain and body, and can affect brain chemistry.  As stimulants travel through the blood vessels by increasing dopamine levels, they start their work by affecting the brain’s reward areas or reward circuits. Stimulants over-activate norepinephrine and dopamine, which is why the circuit ultimately gets used to the drug’s presence when a person’s brain is exposed to it repeatedly.

Causes and Risk Factors for Stimulants Addiction

Like other substance use disorders, stimulant use disorders are complex and are not caused by a specific thing. Studies show that genetic and environmental factors increase a person’s risk of developing disorders.


These biological factors affect the brain by using drugs and alcohol. Substance use disorder often runs in families, and a person’s family history shows how vulnerable to addiction a person might be. Research on identical twins suggests that when one identical twin is addicted to alcohol, there is a high probability the other twin will also be addicted. Newer studies estimate that a person’s genetics accounts for 40 to 60% of their risks.


Research has proven that a person’s environment significantly influences their risk for stimulant addiction. Substance use disorders are widely recognized as global health problems, and environmental factors, including exposure and access to the substance of abuse, neighborhood disadvantages, and environmental barriers to treatment, influence substance use behaviors. Medical students with high expectations and extreme workloads may be more likely to abuse stimulants. Additionally, people with a history of unemployment and poverty and those who use stimulants regularly may become addicted to stimulants more easily.

Risk Factors

  • Family history of substance use or mental illness
  • Personal history of substance use or mental illness
  • Personal history of trauma or violence
  • Familiarity with and easy access to stimulant medications
  • Exposure to stimulants in utero
  • Chronic exposure to high stress
  • Poverty
  • Men are at higher risk than women
  • Unemployment
  • High demands or expectations placed on oneself

Common Prescription Stimulant Brands

Common prescription stimulant brands are methylphenidate, dextroamphetamine, and amphetamines. Prescription stimulants are medicines used to treat narcolepsy, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and sometimes obesity. These medications increase alertness, concentration, energy, and attention.

There is little difference between Methylphenidate (such as Ritalin) and Amphetamines (such as Adderall), and the primary pharmacologic effects of abusing these stimulants are approximately the same. Depending on the potency and duration needed, children and adults diagnosed with ADHD have been prescribed either methylphenidate or amphetamines. Prescription Stimulants consist of:


Adderall, approved in 1960, is a popular combination medication used to treat ADHD. This is the most commonly prescribed Amphetamine in the United States and helps increase a person’s ability to pay attention and stay focused on an activity.


Dexedrine is a central nervous system Stimulant and Amphetamine prescribed for treating ADHD and narcolepsy since 1976. Dexedrine is also known as Dextroamphetamine. During fatigue-inducing missions like extended combat operations and night-time bombing missions in Second World War, the drug was used by armed forces and military air personnel to keep them awake and give them courage.


This drug is the brand name formulation of Methylphenidate that is associated with the medication treatment of ADHD. This FDA-approved medication has been used to treat hyperactive children since 1955. Dexedrine and Adderall differ from Ritalin as it is a Methylphenidate and is similar to Amphetamine because it is milder than Amphetamine-based drugs.


Concerta was approved in 2000 and is used to treat ADHD. It is an extended-release version of Ritalin and works by changing the amount of certain natural substances in the brain.


Desoxyn (Methamphetamine) is a central nervous system stimulant prescription medicine introduced in 1947. It can help improve impulsive and hyperactive behaviors. Other than this, it is known to be effective in treating obesity and ADHD.


Ephedrine is a prescription medicine used as a bronchodilator and an appetite suppressant for asthma sufferers. Ephedrine may also temporarily relieve chest tightness, wheezing due to bronchial asthma, and shortness of breath. It is also used to treat the symptoms of low blood pressure and helps treat obesity. It is mainly used as an ingredient in illegal Meth labs.

Illicit Stimulants

Commonly used stimulants are crack, cocaine, and crystal meth, which can lead to significant health issues. The effects of these drugs are the same as prescription stimulants, designed as time-release drugs, and are usually swallowed, smoked, or injected.

How Are Stimulants Used?

Stimulants can be used as both prescription and recreational drugs throughout the world and increase the body’s cognitive function. Prescription stimulants mostly come in tablets, capsules, or liquid form and are consumed by mouth. When misused, illicit stimulants are usually smoked, swallowed, snorted, or injected in various forms.

Stimulants increase cognitive function and cause a state of attention, talkativeness, alertness, energy, and well-being. Stimulant effects are based on the strength of drugs and can be felt most rapidly when the substances are smoked or injected. Through snorting stimulants, people can achieve a faster onset of desired effects compared to other delivery methods, like needles or smoking. Orally ingested stimulants are the most convenient and safest and have the longest duration of effects but have the slowest onset of desired effects. The way a drug is taken may have several health issues and risks. Stimulants are introduced to the body by several routes:

  • Injecting—Injecting stimulants increases the risk of developing infections, abscesses, and overdose. Some people share needles that can lead to blood-borne illnesses such as HIV or hepatitis C.
  • Smoking—Smoking stimulants increase the risk of developing breathing issues in people.
  • Snorting—Snorting stimulants damage the nasal tissue of a person.

In addition, when stimulants are used in different ways to produce desired effects more quickly, the risk of developing an addiction may also increase largely.

Stimulants Abuse Symptoms

A person should be aware of the potential signs and symptoms of stimulant overdose to help their loved ones who may be misusing or abusing stimulants. Side effects of drugs can also be a sign of stimulant use. This may include:

  • Talking more or faster, or rambling.
  • Frequently dilated pupils.
  • Noticeable weight loss.
  • Paying less attention to personal hygiene.
  • The strange smell on the breath, hair, or clothing.
  • Using substances in a pattern lasting hours or days, followed by long periods of sleep.
  • Sudden changes in behavior.
  • Having more energy than usual.
  • Eating and sleeping less than usual.
  • Experiencing money problems, such as stealing money or valuables, needing to borrow money, or going into debt.
  • Getting in trouble at school or work.
  • Legal problems due to possession, driving under the influence, theft, or as a result of erratic or violent behavior.
  • Skipping days at school or work.
  • Isolating from friends or family.
  • Spending time with a different group of friends.

If numerous symptoms arise, it can be difficult for you or your loved ones to identify or admit that they are struggling with stimulant abuse. Proper diagnosis of stimulant use disorder is necessary, and this should be made by a medical professional. Substance use disorders should be based on a person depicting 2 or more of the criteria found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Examples of these criteria include:

  • Unsuccessful attempts at cutting down or controlling the use of substances.
  • Giving up or reducing time spent engaging in social, recreational, or occupational situations.
  • Craving substances.
  • Using substances in more significant amounts over a longer period.
  • Continued use despite knowing it could be physically dangerous.

Next Steps & Seeking Professional Help

If a person or their loved one struggles with stimulant addiction or substance use, they do not have to fight the battle alone. Substance use disorder treatment options in various rehabs help people with their recovery. Licensed specialists are available who can provide cognitive behavioral therapies and vital resources and help people manage their withdrawal process. They help their clients maintain their recovery for the long term and select the appropriate treatment program for substance abuse.


How does stimulant abuse affect the body?

Stimulant abuse or misuse occurs when people take prescription drugs inappropriately. It is linked with a variety of behavioral and health effects. Even the short-term usage of stimulants can have a severe effect on a person’s health, while others have after long-term use. Short-term or long-term stimulant use can affect a person’s physical or mental health. The following are some factors that can influence this: 

  • How much is taken?
  • The stimulant being used in combination with other substances
  • The type of stimulant being used or misused.
  • How often it’s used?
  • How long has a person been using or misusing it?
  • The way it’s consumed.

What are the physical effects of stimulant abuse?

Stimulant abuse plays a vital role in a person’s physical health, whether the use or misuse is short-term or long-term. Unfavorable health conditions of a person can have a great impact on the brain, heart, and even teeth. Some common effects may include the following:

  • Insomnia.
  • Headaches.
  • Anxiety.
  • Itching skin.
  • Dizziness.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Shakiness.
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Chest pain.
  • Sweating.
  • Decreased appetite.

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